11 July 2024

Some nine years ago, both popularity and exit polls pointed towards one outcome. The Pheu Thai Party’s city gubernatorial candidate, Pongsapat Pongcharoen, would win comfortably, if not by a landslide, according to the pollsters. With hindsight, to their big embarrassment, they failed to take into account a few major habits of their samples.

The first is the difficult accessibility of many people, particularly the comparatively “affluent” Bangkokians. They were often busy being on the move and usually declined interviews. While this kind of voters might constitute insignificant portions of voting populaces in many places upcountry, they flexed considerable muscles in Bangkok.

If these voters had different choices spreading out among them, the pollsters would have had no big problem. As it turned out, they had a similar thing in mind.

The second is the tendency to lie to pollsters if ones have an “embarrassing” choice hidden inside. In 2013, supporting incumbent governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra’s re-election bid was not a popular or praiseworthy idea. Therefore, several pro-Sukhumbhand eligible voters would “play it safe” by not telling the truth when asked by pollsters whom they would cast ballots for.

The third, which led to “exit” pollsters’ huge mistake, was the habit of the relativelyaffluent voters to be late to the ballot booths on the election day. So, when the exit polls were carried out in the morning, the ideal time that would give analysts the least pressure working on data to be made public when voting closed in the late afternoon, they got only the “early birds”. Again, if the latecomers had the same choice as those who had come early, it would have been fine. As it turned out, their choice was different from those voting in the morning.

The fourth habit had to do with the love-hate relations between Bangkok and Thaksin Shinawatra. When the Thaksin romance blossomed in the capital, Pheu Thai flourished in the city and bulldozed anything else. When it turned sour, Sukhumbhand benefited and the resentment later played a big part in the uprising against the Yingluck government.

Bangkok gubernatorial election candidates attempt to woo support from street vendors

Leading candidate Chadchart Sittipunt wants this current race to be different from 2013 whereas Prayut-installed ex-governor Aswin Kwanmuang wants it to be the same. Chadchart apparently has had the “early birds” on his side and seems to be working well on the habitual latecomers. He has distanced himself from Thaksin and Pheu Thai by running as an independent and that has been “so far, so good”.

Aswin, however, must be hoping that the 2013 history can repeat itself. After all, the anti-Thaksin fever that propelled Sukhumbhand to unlikely victory swept Bangkok just a few days before the election. It was a rogue wave coming out of the blue.

While Chadchart should not be overly worried about history at the moment, he probably should pay some attention to a leading pollster’s observation that a number of surveyed eligible voters might only say his name because they had heard it the most. Chadchart was the first to declare his gubernatorial ambition and started his low-key campaign long before any other candidate. His name was, therefore, associated with the “Bangkok gubernatorial election.

According to the pollster, that can be a double-edged sword. Either Chadchart’s name will stick around until a voter marks his or her ballot next month, or some eligible voters have given popularity pollsters his name simply because they had heard it more, not because they actually intended to vote for him.

Nine years after the Sukhumbhand disaster, pollsters are hoping they are getting it right this time. The situation, however, is eerily familiar, featuring an apparently runaway leader, an underdog rival, a seemingly-insignificant chasing pack, mostly-agreeable popularity surveys, and, last but not least, Thaksin lurking in the background.

By Tulsathit Taptim